Dr Emma Thomas
BA / BPsyc (Hons.) PhD

ARC Research Fellow, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology

About me

I am a Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology within the School of Psychology and Exercise Science. I completed a PhD in social psychology at the Australian National University and was a post-doctoral Research Associate at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security before moving to Murdoch in 2010 to take up a teaching and research position.

My research sits at the nexus of social and political psychology. I study how people and societies change and I believe that the two (personal and social change) are inextricably linked. As such, my research bears on topics of both theoretical and practical importance:

  • When and how do people respond to humanitarian injustice? My research shows that people will act collectively to support humanitarian aid when a motivating pattern of social identity, group emotions (especially outrage) and beliefs align through social discussion (Thomas & McGarty, 2009; Thomas, McGarty & Mavor, 2009; Thomas, McGarty & Mavor, 2016).
  • When will people take up arms (engage in violence) in pursuit of social change? I recently developed an experimental analogue of radicalization, showing that social interaction and legitimization can combine to promote political extremism (Thomas, McGarty & Louis, 2014).
  • What is the role of modern forms of communication technologies (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) in initiating social change? My research suggests that social media provide spaces where people can air, validate and reach agreement on their views and in doing so come to new self-understandings (form identities) relating to how they want the world to be (Smith, Thomas & McGarty, 2015; Thomas et al., 2015)

 

Teaching area

Between 2012-2015 I will have reduced teaching responsibilities but I have previously taught:

PSY248 Social Bases of Behaviour

PSY412 BPsyc Seminar

Research areas

My research sits at the nexus of social and political psychology. I adopt the perspective, informed by the social identity approach, that the conceptual and psychological link between mass personal change and social change is social identification (that part of oneself that relates to membership of groups). Accordingly, my research focuses on understanding why, how and for whom specific social identities form to address wrongs that people perceive in the world.

  • Why do social identities form to promote commitment to social change? Group emotions and beliefs about the effectiveness of collective action precipitate new self- understandings (new social identities) and, in turn, action.
  • How do social identities form to promote commitment to social change? Through social interaction (face to face or online through social media) new self-understandings (social identities) can be fostered and crystallized to promote commitment to act to change the world.
  • For whom do they do so? Specific individual differences (relating to universalism values, social dominance ideology) shape the kind of person who is more likely to adopt novel, justice-oriented, social identities.

Current projects

My current research interests fall into three areas.

1. Mass generosity and responses to humanitarian emergencies. My ARC-funded grant explores the social psychological underpinnings of (what I term) mass generosity: think of massive, public outpourings of support like that witnessed in the wake of the Boxing Day 2004 Asian Tsunami disaster.

I am leading research exploring personality and social attitudes towards global poverty. This research is, to my knowledge, the world’s largest and most detailed exploration of the psychological factors that underpin political support for reducing global poverty in developed countries. By tracking people over time we are able to understand how features of personality and attitudes interact with changes in the social and political context to promote, or undermine, support for the global poverty agenda. To date this research has involved over 2200 participants and has been conducted annually since 2012.

2. Social emotion, social identity and social action. A secondary line of research considers the role of emotion in fostering common social bonds (social identity) and providing a platform for coordinated social justice action, including bystander activism. My research explores the proposition that, in order to act together to achieve change, we must also feel together.

A slice of this research, exploring the role of hope and resilience, has been funded as part of the Cooperative Research Centre: Young and Well (CRC-YAW). You can view a website that is one of the outcomes of our project on hope and support in the context of post-conflict Rwanda here.

3. Violent and non-violent social action, activism and radicalism. A third line of research, funded by the ARC Discovery scheme, investigates the distinct processes that underpin support for violent and non-violent social action. We consider the antecedents of the development of a political consciousness (politicization), as well as the factors that lead people to turn away from more ‘conventional’ forms of protest and become more extreme in their methods (radicalization).

Awards and grants

AWARDS AND HONOURS

2016 – Society for Australasian Social Psychology (SASP) Early Career AwardAwarded to an emerging scholar who has made an outstanding contribution to the field of social psychology in Australasia.

2015 – Murdoch University Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Early Career Research - Awarded by Murdoch University to an early career researcher who has demonstrated a rapidly advancing research profile ahead of what is considered normal for the stage of their career.

2012 Top 10 nominee (7th place) for Murdoch University in the Lecturer of the Year awards (www.lectureroftheyear.com.au).

2010 Australian Psychological Society Excellent PhD Thesis in Psychology Award – The APS thesis award recognizes outstanding research in psychology.

GRANTS AND COMPETITIVE FUNDING

Louis, W.R., Thomas, E.F., McGarty, C., Moghaddam, F., & Amiot, C.E. (2016-2018). Awarded AUD$325 000. Outcomes of collective action: After the blockage, what next? The Australian Research Council Discovery Project DP160101618.

Thomas, E.F. (2012-2015) Awarded AUD$375 000.Responding to humanitarian emergencies: mass generosity as collective action. The Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award DE120101029.

International competitive

Amiot, C.E., Louis, W.R., & Thomas, E.F. (2014-2018). Awarded $302 505. Internalisation of discriminatory norms and impact on well-being: The role of social identity processes. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Insight Program.

Thomas, E.F. (2012-2013). AUD$33 000.Structured small group interaction and the foundations of civic participation. Spencer Foundation Grant New Civics Initiative.

CRC funding

Thomas, E.F., Lala, G., McGarty, C., Ebert, A., Mhando, M. & Broderick, M. (2013-2014). Awarded AUD $68 000.Exploring the use of positive messages to survivors of trauma to boost engagement and well-being in their supporters. Cooperative Research Centre: Young People, Technology and Well-being.

Thomas, E.F., Lala, G., McGarty, C., Ebert, A., Mhando, M. & Broderick, M. (2012-2013). Awarded AUD $32 000.Exploring the use of positive messages to survivors of trauma to boost engagement and well-being in their supporters: Pilot study. Cooperative Research Centre: Young People, Technology and Well-being.

 

Professional and community service

I act as an ad-hoc reviewer for the major international social and political psychology journals.

I also act as an advisor to the Global Poverty Project: http://www.globalpovertyproject.com/

This website, produced as part of our CRC-YAW project on hope and support, contains some amazing messages of hope from survivors of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, which are responded to with messages of support from Australian youth:

Messages of hope and support

 

 

Publications

Chapters

  • McGarty, C., Lala, G., Thomas, E., (2012),Opinion-based groups and the restoration of civil society,In: Restoring Civil Society, Wiley-Blackwell, pages 250 to 264.

Journals

  • Bliuc, A., McGarty, C., Thomas, E., Lala, G., Berndsen, M., Misajon, R., (2015), Public division about climate change rooted in conflicting socio-political identities, Nature Climate Change, 5, , pages 226 - 229.
  • Louis, W., Amiot, C., Thomas, E., (2015), Collective harm-doing: Developing the perspective of the perpetrator (NEED ARTICLE COPY), Peace and Conflict: journal of peace psychology, 21, 3, pages 306 - 312.
  • Thomas, E., McGarty, C., Lala, G., Stuart, A., Hall, L., Goddard, A., (2015), Whatever happened to Kony2012? : understanding a global Internet phenomenon as an emergent social identity, European Journal of Social Psychology, 45, 3, pages 356 - 367.
  • Thomas, E., McGarty, C., Louis, W., (2014), Social interaction and psychological pathways to political engagement and extremism, European Journal of Social Psychology, 44, , pages 15 - 22.
  • McGarty, C., Thomas, E., Lala, G., Smith, L., Bliuc, A., (2014), New Technologies, New Identities, and the Growth of Mass Opposition in the Arab Spring, Political Psychology, 35, 6, pages 725 - 740.
  • Lala, G., McGarty, C., Thomas, E., Ebert, A., Broderick, M., Mhando, M., Kamuronsi, Y., (2014), Messages of Hope: Using Positive Stories of Survival to Assist Recovery in Rwanda, Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 2, 1, pages 450 - 468.
  • Thomas, E., Louis, W., (2014), When will collective action be effective? Violent and non-violent protests differentially influence perceptions of legitimacy and efficacy amongst supporters, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40, 2, pages 263 - 276.
  • Curtis, G., Gouldthorp, B., Thomas, E., O'Brien, G., Correia, H., (2013), Online academic-integrity mastery training may improve students' awareness of, and attitudes toward, plagiarism, Psychology Learning and Teaching, 12, 3, pages 282 - 289.
  • Stuart, A., Thomas, E., Donaghue, N., Russell, A., (2013), "We may be pirates, but we are not protesters": Identity in the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Political Psychology, 34, 5, pages 753 - 777.
  • Thomas, E., Louis, W., (2013), Doing Democracy: The Social Psychological Mobilization and Consequences of Collective Action, Social Issues and Policy Review, 7, 1, pages 173 - 200.
  • Pedersen, A., Thomas, E., (2013), "There But for the Grace of God Go We": Prejudice Toward Asylum Seekers, Peace and Conflict: journal of peace psychology, 19, 3, pages 253 - 265.
  • Thomas, E., Mavor, K., McGarty, C., (2012), Social identities facilitate and encapsulate action-relevant constructs: A test of the social identity model of collective action, Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 15, 1, pages 75 - 88.
  • Thomas, E., McGarty, C., Mavor, K., (2010), Social psychology of 'Making Poverty History': Motivating anti-poverty action in Australia, Australian Psychologist, 45, 1, pages 4 - 15.
  • Thomas, E., Smith, L., McGarty, C., Postmes, T., (2010), Nice and nasty: The formation of prosocial and hostile social movements, Revue Internationale de Psychologie Sociale, 23, 2-3, pages 17 - 55.
  • Thomas, E.F., McGarty, C. & Mavor, K.I (2009) Transforming ‘apathy into movement’: The role of prosocial emotions in motivating action for social change. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 13, 310-333.
  • Thomas, E.F., McGarty, C. & Mavor, K.I (2009) Aligning identities, emotions and beliefs to create sustained support for social and political action. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 13, 194-218.
  • McGarty, C., Bliuc, A.M, Thomas, E.F & Bongiorno, R. (2009) Collective action as the material expression of opinion-based group membership. Journal of Social Issues, 65, 839-858.
  • Thomas, E.F & McGarty, C. (2009) The role of efficacy and moral outrage norms in creating the potential for international development activism through group-based interaction. British Journal of Social Psychology, 48, 115-134.
  • Thomas, E.F (2005) The role of social identity in creating positive beliefs and emotions to motivate volunteerism. The Australian Journal of Volunteering, 2, 45-52.

Other Publications: Opinion pieces

  • Thomas, E.F. & Pedersen, A. (5th August 2015). What psychology has to say about how you should respond to racism. The Conversation. Available online: https://theconversation.com/what-psychology-says-about-how-you-should-respond-to-racist-behaviour-45599
  •  Louis, W.R. & Thomas, E.F. (17th February 2014). Protest in the 21st century: Is naked the new balaclava? The Conversation. Available online: https://theconversation.com/protest-in-the-21st-century-is-naked-the-new-balaclava
  • Thomas, E.F. (17th July 2012). Selling the carbon tax: individual versus collective self-interest. The Conversation. Available online: http://theconversation.edu.au/selling-the-carbon-tax-individual-versus-collective-self-interest-8091
  • Reynolds, K.J. & Thomas, E.F. (16th March 2009). All Codes Must Play Ball. The Canberra Times. (p.9)